Monday, August 17, 2009

Slash and burn agriculture of early civilizations may have altered global climate

Science Daily: Massive burning of forests for agriculture thousands of years ago may have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide enough to alter global climate and usher in a warming trend that continues today, according to a new study that appears online Aug. 17 in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

Researchers at the University of Virginia and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County say that today's 6 billion people use about 90 percent less land per person for growing food than was used by far smaller populations early in the development of civilization. Those early societies likely relied on slash-and-burn techniques to clear large tracts of land for relatively small levels of food production.

"They used more land for farming because they had little incentive to maximize yield from less land, and because there was plenty of forest to burn," said William Ruddiman, the lead author and a professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia. "They may have inadvertently altered the climate."

Ruddiman is a climate scientist who specializes in investigating ocean-sediment and ice-core records. In recent years he has searched across scientific disciplines – anthropology, archaeology, population dynamics, climatology – to gain insight into how humans may have affected climate over the millennia.

He said that early populations likely used a land-clearing method that involved burning forests, then planting crop seed among the dead stumps in the enriched soil. They would use a large plot until the yield began to decline, and then would burn off another area of forest for planting…..

An autumn burn, shot by T.Voekler, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

4 comments:

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Is likely to be hit hardest by the droughts, floods, heatwaves and rising sea levels forecast if climate change is not checked.

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